Treasure 10: the Gresley dance manuscript

 Treasure 10 Dance manuscript (b)

This small paper and parchment notebook dating from end of the fifteenth century was found amongst the Gresley family papers (D77), and was badly damaged by damp and mould. The item has since undergone conservation work, and has been packaged very carefully to protect it – it even has its own pillow!  It is sometimes known as the John Banys dance notebook, because it contains a list of medieval dances, with choreography and dance melodies.  The same book also contains other material which, unlike the dance sections, is written in Latin: some prayers; a treatise on physiognomy (the assessment of a person’s character from their outer appearance, particularly the face); and an intriguing treatise on chiromancy (palm reading) which includes this drawing of some hands:

Treasure 10 Dance manuscript (a)

If you arrive in the searchroom and ask to see the notebook (D77/4/25/25), we hope you won’t be too disappointed to be offered a look at a high-resolution copy (CD/133) instead – the original only comes out on special occasions!

Becky Sheldon, Archivist, writes:

In my first year or so as an archivist at Derbyshire, I spent a very significant amount of time working on the large Gresley family of Drakelow collection, and my ears prick up each time I hear the name Gresley mentioned… …the quaint looking book is incredibly charming with beautifully written text, intricately drawn hands to accompany the chiromancy, or palmistry, notes and an ironic comfortableness in the familiarity in form of the dance melodies.

The choreography sections of the manuscript continue to inspire modern-day experts in early dance.  Here, by way of example, is a video of the Greensleeves group performing some of the dances.

7 thoughts on “Treasure 10: the Gresley dance manuscript

  1. Hi Mark
    In the description there is mention made of choreography and dance melodies. It is clear that the dances performed in the video are from the Gresley manuscript but I’m unsure whether the music the performers are dancing to are the “melodies” that are mentioned. Do you know if this is the case?
    Mark Knight

    • Hi Mark. The video on this blog mirrors one posted on YouTube in 2014 (see The contextual information underneath the YouTube clip specifically mentions the choreography having its origin in the Gresley Manuscript, but doesn’t say the same thing about the music – so I infer that the melodies are from another source. However, the post also gives an email address for Ann and Paul Kent of Greensleeves, who may be able to help:

    • Hi Aaron. The digital facsimile is available to the public in our search room. Copyright law permits us to make a copy for the purpose of preserving the original, but not to publish that copy, so we are limited in what we can do. However, under fair dealing, we can supply a copy of a reasonable proportion of the document to people who need it for their personal and private research – there have been times when a researcher has needed to have a complete copy of the section dealing with the dances and we have been able to satisfy that request through our usual copying service, because the choreography section is only a few pages of the total.

  2. I went back to the catalogue entry to ensure it had all the information it should (see For saying this is one of our acknowledged treasures, the description needed some expansion. As a quick fix, I have attached to the entry a description of the volume written by then County Archivist Margaret O’Sullivan in 1999. This contains a lot of contextual information, as well as a contents list. The list of contents (which I have added to the catalogue) describes this text as “the section on physiognomy, in the version of Philip of Tripoli, from the Pseudo-Aristotle’s Secretum Secretorum, an extremely popular medieval text often associated with the John of Seville Chiromancy”. I then allowed myself thirty seconds to skim through what looks like a fascinating Wikipedia article on the Secretum Secretorum!

  3. Thanks so much for that valuable information, Cindy. I will update the catalogue entry for this source to say that the physiognomy text is likely to be from (or at least based on) Aristotle. I hope your doctoral research continues to provide you with interesting discoveries.

  4. Hi, Mark and Becky,

    So lovely to see pics of this manuscript! I emailed about this ms a few weeks ago, and have been doing a little research to see what pages I might want to order. I thought you might be interested in what I’ve turned up so far.

    You probably already know that the dances and music were transcribed and published in David Fallows’s “The Gresley Dance Collection, C. 1500.” Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, no. 29 (1996): 1-20.

    Using David Fallows descriptions of the other items in the ms, I think I may have located another copy of the physiognomy text. The beginning and ending lines (given in Fallows’ article) seem to be a match for the beginning and ending lines of a text in the Huntington MS 1051, ff. 1-2v, which is transcribed as Aristotle’s “De physiognomia” in W. J. Wilson’s “Catalogue of Latin and Vernacular Alchemical Manuscripts in the United States and Canada,” Osiris 6 (1939) 419-61.

    Very best,
    Cindy Rogers
    PhD Student, Indiana University

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